|The Bahamas Investor Magazine
July 23, 2015
July 23, 2015
Tucked away on the western tip of New Providence is The Island House, a $25-million high-end boutique hotel that welcomed its first guests in April and hopes to attract locals and visitors with its artistic decor, relaxed atmosphere and plethora of amenities including a Bamford Spa, fitness centre and gym, and 48-seat cinema.
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Planning and development
The Island House sits on the same property as Mahogany House, a restaurant just outside the gates of the exclusive Lyford Cay community in western New Providence. Both the hotel and restaurant are on a 10-acre plot of land first purchased by Bahamian investment manager Mark Holowesko a decade ago.
Originally earmarked for office space, the site lay unused until Mahogany House opened in 2011. Encouraged by the restaurant’s success, Mark and his daughter Lauren, who was working at the Carpenters Workshop Gallery in London, decided to build a boutique hotel next door.
“We wanted a laid-back, comfortable space for people from every walk of life. That is what was missing from this end of the island,” says project manager Lauren, who is also a director of the hotel’s parent company The Island House Nassau. “Mahogany House was a great tester. I wanted to move back home from London and [Mark] had the land so we decided it was the perfect spot to expand on what he had done.”
The Holoweskos did not waste any time. From April to November 2012, they enlisted an experienced team to help them make the hotel a reality.
The task of brand management fell to US group Avec, which was chosen for its experience working with other high-end boutique hotels. Also on board was international architecture firm Hart Howerton, which impressed Lauren with its work on the Auberge Inn & Spa at Palmetto Bluff in South Carolina. She was keen to work with architects who understood her desire to mix island living with high-end luxury through an elegant and simple design: “They do well melding with the local culture. They ironed out the whole process for us and came with a lot of knowledge,” she says.
In December 2012, the team had a first draft of their plans. This initial outline needed some revisions however. “It had pools and fountains everywhere. It was like a fantasy land!” says Lauren. Consequently, it was given a “big redesign” before being put into action.
The groundbreaking took place in August 2013 with Prime Minister Perry Christie and several Cabinet members in attendance. Construction, led by Bahamian contractors Osprey Construction Co Ltd, took just under two years to complete.
The Island House is not just a high- end guest house, it is also the centre of what Lauren Holowesko calls “a little cultural hub at the west end of the island.”
With a BA in Art History from Georgetown University and a Masters in Art Business from Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Lauren was keen to bring her artistic expertise to the project and support local artists by incorporating their work into the hotel’s decor.
“Coming from an arts background, I wanted to do something to support the arts,” she says. “It is important for people to see what is happening in The Bahamas. When I came back from London, I was blown away by the art world here. There is a lot of talent emerging and it is inspiring.”
Art is central to the look and feel of the hotel. There are 30 rooms, which can accommodate up to 64 guests (visitors can choose from either king or queen rooms, poolside cottages or larger apartments) and each features an original piece of artwork so that repeat visitors can have “a different experience each time.”
Upstairs, adorning the wall of the Asian restaurant, Shima, is a 150 ft mural by renowned Bahamian artist John Cox. Most of the artwork will initially come from Mark Holowesko’s private collection, but Lauren hopes to expand upon it.
“The idea is to promote these artists,” she says. “We want to build upon the Bahamian art we have, to build a great collection and develop it over time.”
Lauren says the overall theme of the hotel is contemporary, with a touch of Bahamian colour.
“We do have beautiful hotels here but we are trying to create something different by bringing island and city together and creating something that is unique,” she says. She wants it to be viewed as a “welcoming space” where guests and locals can spend time enjoying the spacious lobby, using the free WiFi or having meetings at the coffee bar. “We really had the local community in mind when we designed this project. We want people to come and utilize the space. There has been a lot of attention to detail with the hotel, these are the little touches we hope people will appreciate.”
In keeping with its goal of being a community resource, The Island House will also take part in local art events such as Transforming Spaces –an annual visual arts tour that invites galleries in New Providence to showcase local artwork–and the Bahamas International Film Festival.
The hotel’s cinema is being managed by artistic director Kareem Mortimer, himself an award-winning Bahamian filmmaker. Mortimer is leading a diverse programme which will include Bahamian and Caribbean films, independent documentaries and big blockbusters.
“We want to engage the local community with film,” says Lauren. “Film needs a bit of a boost in this country.”
The cinema, like many spaces in the hotel, is available to rent for events and private functions. Within weeks of it opening for reservations in January 2015, the hotel was booked solid for its first two months, and most of these bookings were for conferences or weddings—the hotel’s first guests were part of a wedding party.
In the early days of the project, before the team settled on a name, Lauren says she wanted to call the hotel “The Guest House” to reflect its desire to be a comfortable base for short-term travellers.
“We never imagined that this would be a long stay hotel. We have a lot of corporate clients, people who have to stopover in Nassau. We are close to the airport so it is a great base for them,” she says.
The Island House is busy forming partnerships with other local tourism operators to share the wealth and provide a complete service for guests who want to see the Family Islands, as well as Nassau.
We want them to experience some of the culture, the art, the cuisine of Nassau and then send them out to The Exumas where you are on a beach and there is no-one else around,” says Lauren. “We have a strong concierge team that can put together programmes like that and coordinate everything.”
As the hotel gets underway and more bookings come flooding in, Lauren says she hopes to grow the business through targeted marketing in the US and Europe, as well as word of mouth from satisfied clients. Prices range from $650 per night for a room with a garden view in high season to $900 for a night in the luxurious suite.
To deliver something of this quality requires close attention to detail and an ability to juggle lots of different things at the same time. Lauren says she is very proud of what she and the team have accomplished.
“Being a project manager of something this scale and going from developing a sewage plant one day to picking out fabrics the next, seeing what it takes to run something like this and experience the entire operation has been very exciting,” she says.
“The logistics side of it has been challenging—you can plan but there are always things that pop up—but we did a lot of due diligence and a lot of research on what is required. Overall, it has been a really great process. We have a phenomenal team and we are all very excited.”